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Gender justice

Mexico claims to pursue a “feminist” foreign policy

Mexico claims to pursue a “feminist” foreign policy. The full truth is that women’s rights cannot be taken for granted in the country itself.
Women in positions of leadership: six governors and the mayor of Mecixo City. picture alliance / NurPhoto / Eyepix Women in positions of leadership: six governors and the mayor of Mecixo City.

Mexico is known for femicides (see me and Sheila Mysorekar on www.dandc.eu). In 2020, 948 women were murdered – 2.7 % more than in 2019.

For several years, the number of court cases concerning domestic violence has been increasing, which, to some extent, may show that many women have the self-confidence to dare to file chargesand refuse to suffer in silence.However, victims say that state agencies are not doing enough to protect them. Feminisits definitely  found it infuriating that President Andrés Manuel López Obrador spoke disparagingly about the women’s rights rallies that are held every year on 8 March.

His government nonetheless claims to be pursuing a feminist foreign policy that is guided by principles of gender justice and human rights. It is proud of a gender-parity reform it implemented and points out that women are serving in more positions of political leadership than in the past. The current federal cabinet has 19 members, of whom eight are women. Eight of 31 Mexico’s states are run by female governors. According to the national statistics agency INEGI, one in four mayors is a woman. These numbers show that female leadership is no longer exceptional, but gender parity has not been achieved.

Clues offered on the government’s website

In 2020, Marcelo Ebrard, the foreign minister, declared that, since the government was feminist, it’s foreign policy was so too. Women’s rights activists appreciate the general stance, but wonder what “feminist” policy actually means in practical terms. The Federal Government’s website offers some clues. It mentions:

  • a foreign policy with an eye to gender issues,
  • parity within the ministry and the diplomatic service,
  • a safe and violence-free institution,
  • visible equality and
  • intersectional approaches.

Mexico certainly deserves praise for assuming leadership and becoming the first Latin American country to emphasise gender issues in its foreign policy. It is up to debate, however, to what extent a government can promote things abroad which it has not achieved at home. Gender parity is not Mexican reality, and the human rights of women – especially to live unencumbered by violence – cannot be taken for granted.

The other website buzzwords obviously refer to the ministry itself, and there clearly is room for improvement. The share of women in leadership positions in the foreign service (heads of embassies and consulates, for example) has not changed since the minister made his statement. It is not quite 30 % and shows that women’s carreer opportunites have not improved since the feminist policy was adopted.

Earlier this year, the foreign ministry had to withdraw a man it wanted to appoint ambassador to Panama. There were abuse accusations, and a highly effective social-media campaign demanded that a molester must not become ambassador. It was striking, however, that Panama objected to the candidate, so the decision was not really inspired by Mexico’s feminist policy.

The ministery is indeed making efforts to raise awareness of female achievements. It is publishing biographies and profiles of outstanding women in the foreign service. Moreover, it is running seminars to make officers understand gender issues. They are expected to respond more sensitively to cases of violence and abuse – not only within their own ranks, but just as well when people turn to Mexico’s embassies and consulates abroad. A recent case of sexual abuse in Qatar was revealing, however. The minister became aware of his female officer’s plight only because of public outrage, but then did support her in legal terms.

In expert jargon “intersectionality” means that discrimination must be considered in cross-cutting ways, taking into account both sexism and racism for example. Questions arise concerning how migrant women from different ethnic and indigenous groups are treated and whether they are separated from daughters and sons when transiting through the country. Not only in regard to migration, various shortcomings still mark daily life in Mexico (see my comment on www.dandc.eu). 

Virginia Mercado is a researcher at the Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México (UAEMex) and an instructor in peace and development studies.

Update: Since Virginia Mercado wrote this comment, two more women have been elected governors in recent state elections. They will take office soon.